The 'F' word: Why are we so afraid of feedback?
Feedback. Whether you are giving it or receiving it, that word can instantly fill you with dread. But why are we so averse to it? Why are we of the notion that things can carry on fine, or better even, without it? We all want to progress; to develop; to improve our work flow or the quality of our work, right? Yet we have put a condition on feedback that it is only helpful if it affirms everything we're already doing. Actually, feedback that causes change is the only feedback worth having, unless you do not wish to progress.
I often ask people for feedback. Usually, if it is in an email, this request will be skimmed over and ignored because it's rare that other people have the time or the inclination to give it. It's the same for many companies; resorting to special offers in order to incentivise people to fill in questionnaires on their services. Most people want companies to improve their business and tailor it to better suit their needs, but no one wants it to be down to them to spend five minutes filling out a questionnaire. People need to feel enough of an incentive to do so, and the best way is down to connections - are people connected with your brand? Do they care enough about it or your services to give you feedback?
That's why it's essential that, if you have employees, they care enough about the company to invest in it; to give and receive feedback and ultimately take the company on further. Are they connecting with their roles? Do they enjoy what they do? Do they feel valued? For me as a freelancer, I will never get that depth of feedback unless I am working regularly enough with a client to have gained enough trust or connection. Still, it is important I continue to ask for it even if it gets skimmed over; at worst it lets the client know that I am open to change and making our working relationship better.
In many cases when I ask for feedback people think I am asking for them to tell me my work is good; that I am a good illustrator and I can carry on just as I am. They say, "yes, your illustrations are really nice." And although that's lovely to hear, it will never really help me progress my work. More than likely I will think nothing needs to improve, which is rarely true. Feedback doesn't even have to be in extreme detail or take considerably more effort than 'it's nice' to be helpful. "It's nice", and "I like ____ best about your work/I dislike____ about your work" takes a couple of words more but it is invaluable.
When I started sending out my illustration work, I was adamant that I wanted to be a children's picture book illustrator. I sent samples to children's publishers, who (if they were kind enough to get back to me) told me my work didn't actually suit children's publishing at all. Being relatively stubborn, it took me a while to admit that my work didn't quite fit in with mainstream children's picture books. That's not to say I can't go down this route, but it meant I had a lot of development to do. Eventually, I started to take a different tact with my work and try out new ideas, and I stopped blindly venturing into the direction I wanted to go in without listening to advice. I either had to change my work or change my direction.
Over the past couple of years contacts have got back to me to say they liked either my food illustration or my hand drawn lettering the best. Because of this I have developed more of this type of work, and since doing so I have had more commissions. It's also helped me to try to find ways of combining the two things - of adapting some of my lettering work to include illustrations and vice versa, which had helped me to combine both my design background and illustrative skills to create something I might not have otherwise. That doesn't mean I can't still pursue my love of character work or stop doing generic artworking jobs too - being versatile helps me to get lots of different kinds of work & get to know lots of different creatives. But feedback has helped me to focus on why I'm different to other creatives, and what makes my work unique, enabling me to have more success making better contacts.
It's surprising how much a little bit of feedback can change things. We need to learn to be less afraid of it. If there are aspects of our work that can improve, do we want to bury our head in the sand and pretend they don't exist? Or do we want to progress in whatever field we're working in?
If you have any feedback about my work then I would love to hear from you, unless you just want to tell me my work is 'nice', of course ;)
You can check out my portfolio here.